Should the players accept a Fehr-less meeting with the owners?

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Yesterday, after two days of failed mediation, news broke that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman had proposed to NHLPA chief Donald Fehr that the players and owners get together without Bettman and Fehr in the room.

The idea was that the removal of the two leaders, each of which has drawn the ire of the other side (and that’s putting it lightly), would reduce the animosity at the bargaining table.

At least, that’s how the league sold it.

“We want to find a way to get to a deal,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. “Nothing else has worked. The commissioner felt that we might as well propose something different. We will see how they respond.”

For fans, the proposal was a welcome one. If that’s the way a deal gets done, do it. (And if that doesn’t work, flip a coin or have an arm wrestle. Anything to end this ridiculous lockout.)

But is it the right move for the players? After all, these are not sophisticated deal-makers; they play hockey for a living. Without Fehr, who’s going to look out for them?

Yahoo!’s Nick Cotsonikas thinks it’s a risk the players have to take.

This smells like a trap. After two sessions with U.S. federal mediators went nowhere, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made a suggestion Thursday – a meeting between owners and players only.

It seems like a PR move. It seems like another negotiating tactic designed to go around NHL Players’ Association leadership, like when the league gave executives a secret window to explain a proposal to players. It seems like a mismatch – seasoned businessmen vs. hockey players.

But they’ve got to try, at least under certain conditions. Joining the nobles is the only hope for the season. You know what happens if they don’t take this chance?

Nothing.

Ken Campbell of The Hockey News disagrees:

Look for player-friendly owner representatives such as Mario Lemieux and John Davidson to be very prominent in these meetings if they take place. They have an enormous amount of credibility with the players and Lemieux, the NHL likely believes, has an enormous amount of sway over Sidney Crosby. And if a star such as Crosby begins to cave, then perhaps others will follow.

Which is why, from this corner, it makes very little sense for the players to allow this to happen. They hired Fehr precisely to do what he has done so far to the owners and it has been a brilliant tactic. And as far as the players have been concerned, Fehr has been the equivalent of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, constantly being flanked by grim looking superstars at every photo opportunity.

Dealing directly with owners has always represented an enormous disadvantage for the players. That’s why they have agents to negotiate their contracts for them. And that’s why they have Fehr to do their dirty work for them.

The NHLPA has yet to accept or decline the league’s offer.

If it does accept, the next step would be determining the format of the meeting, as well as who’s invited.

“It might be helpful if we can get some other owners in the room,” Pittsburgh forward Craig Adams told the Post-Gazette.

(Translation: Owners besides Jeremy Jacobs, Ted Leonsis, Murray Edwards and Craig Leipold.)

If it declines, the next step may be decertification.